T.J. Middleton

The Journeyman: Back to Beijing!

Mark Keil, director/producer of the tennis documentary that depicts life on the tour in the late 90’s, tells us about the tour event that is being played out in Beijing, China. The stop this week takes us to the home of chicken chow mein, where the player’s travel back to the far east.

This spectacle is a great place in that the tourist attractions for the player’s are endless. In 1997, I teamed up with TJ Middleton of Dallas. It’s quite a way’s to go play an event, but the tour provides free hotel rooms for main draw player’s at each event. The only major expense is the airfare; the tournament usually has a gratis meal plan for at least two eats a day. The singles main draw competitors receive a room for the entire week. The doubles players each get their own accomodations up until the night they lose.  When that happens, the player’s usually then bunk up and share a room with another guy until they leave to go onto the next tourney. Even at the future and challenger level do the male’s receive a free hotel stay.

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The entry level tournaments to the tour are similar to the mini tours in golf, and the minor league baseball system in the states. This housing system help’s out immensely with the player’s being able to make a living. They then can pocket most of their prize money without having too many expenditures. I got a chance to visit the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. The huge mural of the late leader of China, Chairman Mao, is an awesome sight to see. The event is now played at the ‘08 Olympic tennis venue. First round, Middleton and I played Byron Black and Jonathan Stark. Bryon won the NCAA doubles championships with Eric Amend for the University of Southern California. He was a stalwart Davis Cup player for his native Zimbabwe for many years. His sister Cara Black, is currently the No. 1-ranked individual doubles player in the world, and shares that position with her partner Leizel Huber. Stark is from Medford, Oregon, and played at Stanford along with competing for his country in Davis Cup doubles. He now lives in Seattle. He actually was the most normal person that ever played tennis at Stanford. Most of the other Cardinal were very peculiar. In the second round, we beat the unusually superstitious Dane Kenneth Carlsen and America’s David Wheaton. David grew up in Minneapolis, was a Wimbledon singles semifinalist, and played for the US in our sport’s version of the Ryder Cup.  He was a good hockey player, and now has a radio show and wrote a book titled “The University of Destruction.”  It theorizes that US college’s are warping are youth’s mind’s. We played well and won 7-5, 6-7, 6-2.

In the semifinals, Middleton and I lost to India’s current Davis Cup partnership Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes. Mahesh was an All American out of Ole Miss, and used the scholarship he received there to improve his game immensely.  He now also own’s a major production company in India and  manages athlete’s and personalities.  Paes is still one of the most successful doubles player’s on the tour, having just won the US Open mixed title and reaching the men’s doubles finals’ as well.  TJ and I had great time there, cruising around the city and having a few Tsing Tsau’s in the evening’s.  We practiced hard though, and made around $7,500 each that week.  The odyssey continue’s and until next week, check out all of the result’s in the small print at the back of your local sport’s page.

Mark Keil – My Times in New Haven

Tennis coach Mark Keil takes at look the ATP event held in New Haven, Conn., each year.  After losing early in Washington DC, I would head back to Tampa to train for a few days before heading up to the event held at Yale University.

I sometimes would hit with Jennifer Capriati in Florida, and she would hit the ball so deep.  Since I was accustomed to mostly playing doubles, I would play her baseline games to eleven and she would give me a run for my money.  She was a goofy girl, in a good way, and really didn’t like to practice, but we all didn’t really.  She was always talking about her boyfriend at the time, Xavier Malisse, and how crazy he was.

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The campus at Yale where the tourney is played (then known as the Volvo International, now the Pilot Penn) is like an oasis in the middle of east Los Angeles.  This is where Sidney Wood, the 1931 Wimbledon champion would hone his game.  You might still be able to catch him cruising the grounds.

One year I played with Adam Malik, the All-American out of Kentucky who was from Malaysia. We played Marius Barnard and Brent Haygarth from South Africa. Marius liked to bounce the ball a lot before he served. Adam would blink constantly when talking to you. Brent was a stellar player out of Texas A&M, who dates former tour player Tara Snyder.  We played a tight match and came up short 7-6, 4-6, 4-6.

In 1998, I played with T.J. Middleton, a team member of the NCAA champion Georgia Bulldog’s in 1987. We would always have a good time, and hung out together that week at Toad’s Place. Unfortunately, we went down to the tough German doubles team of Marc-Kevin Goellner and David Prinosil.  They would get to the finals of the French Open together, losing to the wild Jensen brothers. Marc patented wearing a baseball cap turned backwards, inspiring the craze you see now in tennis.  The summer tennis season was coming to a close, and the last big dance was upon us.

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Mark Keil: DC Tennis Memories

Mark Keil commentates on his experience playing this past week’s ATP event in Washington D.C. Playing D.C. is one of the final straws on the road to the US Open. The heat is bearable only due to the fact that the final Grand Slam tournament of the year is soon approaching.  I played with the All-American out of Ole Miss Dave Randall in 1992. We lost to Charles Beckman and Brod Dyke in the first round. Beckman was a Louisville product, who had a stellar collegiate career at Texas . His shots were deceiving in that he grunted so loud while making contact with the ball, but its velocity was so soft that it made you swing at the ball early. His partner from Adelaide was a wily lefty veteran. My buddy T.J. Middleton had a  few contacts at the White House during the Clinton administration, and we went there and had a hit on the White House tennis court. We received a nice tour of the cabinet meeting room, and it was a hair-raising experience.

I met a future brief girlfriend there, Stacey Certner. She was one of the best looking Jewish girls I ever dated. She would visit me at my home base in Tampa , and I really liked her, but, she dumped me. I think it was because of the tale a former player from Albuquerque ‘s encounter he had on a flight. David Livingston met a female in the first class section of a domestic flight.  She saw his tennis racquet bag, and asked him if he was a pro. He said yes, indeed he was, and she asked him his ranking. At the time he was ranked about No. 285  in the world, but rising steadily.  He decided to fib a bit, and told her he was ranked  68. She quickly replied, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get better,” and she quickly went back to reading Vogue, ignoring him the whole flight.  I believe Stacey bailed on me because I wasn’t that highly ranked, or because I sent her a whole package of pictures of myself, and then she never called me again.

The next year I played with the best doubles player I have ever played with: Christo Van Rensburg.  He was a great doubles tactician, and had a great chip backhand lob return. We beat the team of Axel Finnberg(Ger)/Marcus Zoecke(FRG), and the American duo Mike Briggs/Brett Garnett.  Briggs was an unbelievable break dancer, who came out of the great tennis program at UC Irvine. Mr. Garnett was a calm southerner until provoked, with a hellacious kick serve.  We lost to Patrick McEnroe and Richey Reneberg 6-2, 6-3.

My final year of playing there in 1999, I teamed up with Notre Dame’s finest tennis player ever David DiLucia.  He was voted athlete of the year there, even over the All American football player Raghib Ismail.  We lost early in the week to Mikael Hill and Scott Humphries. This event in the nation’s capital is a great introduction to the world’s biggest sporting event.

Take care, and hit ’em deep.

The Day I Beat Pete Sampras On Grass

It was on this day in tennis history, June 11, 1991 when Mark Keil, ranked No. 224 playing in only his second career ATP tour event, staged a staggering upset of future seven-times Wimbledon champion Pete Sampras 6-2, 7-6 in the first round of the Stella Artois Championships at Queen’s Club in London. Following the win over the No. 8 ranked player in the world, Keil entered the post-match press conference and asked reporters, “Is this where I am supposed to sit. I have never done this before.” Asked what his previous claim to fame had been prior to beating Sampras, Keil responded, “Nothing.” Keil, the producer and star of the tennis documentary “The Journeymen” (click here to order), takes readers back to that occasion in this week’s blog.

After losing early in the French Open, I headed to play a Challenger in Surbiton, England the second week of the French. I partnered with Doug Flach, the former All American out of the University of Tennesse, and brother of former U.S. Davis Cup doubles standout Ken Flach. We lost first round to James Blake’s nutritionist Mark Merklein and the soft spoken Michael Sell, 6-2 in the third.

The next week – who would have thunk it – but I beat the greatest player ever to play the game, Pete Sampras. Yes, I am still milking this occasion, and until a better moment in my life shows up, it has to be done. When I arrived that day in June in 1991, I stayed at a bed and breakfast in Wimbledon village. I was travelling with Craig Boynton, an American who now coach’s Mardy Fish. He got sick that week, and was watching movies from dusk till dawn. The day before I played Pete, I hung out with a friend Allysa Rappaport. She was backpacking around Europe. She was a nice girl. Her dad started the Outback chain of restaurants. What a great flavor of the week. I tried to resume a relationship with her when I got back to my homebase of Tampa, but to no avail. The morning of my match was a glorious one, and I warmed up with Brad Pearce, a Mormon from Utah who was a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon once. He told me I had a chance. That was all I needed. I proceeded to play lights out on the best grass court in the world still to this day. The only moment of the match I regret was not looking him in the eyes when I shoke his hand. I must admit the match changed my life, some for the good, some for the bad. I let my ego get in the way of my career, and subsequently did not break into the top 100 in singles. The next few months I felt like since I had beaten the No. 8 player in the world, I didn’t need any help. I was main draw of ten challengers in singles after that. I should have had my coach at the time Allen Webb come with me, to get past that last hurdle. When you break into the top 100 in singles, it’s like getting invited to the best dance. After a celebratory dinner with my pal and fellow player T.J. Middleton and Allysa and her friend Marybeth, I had the huge challenge of playing Malivai Washington the next day. The former star from the University of Michigan couldn’t handle my aggressive play in the first set. I won 7-6. “I’m going to win the tournament now” That’s what I thought and I’m sure everyone in the crowd read my mind. He then beat me 6-3, 6-2. It’s a week I won’t forget.

Enjoy Wimbledon!

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